Acquittal not end of the road for Sgt White

Fri, Jul 28, 2006, 01:00

Det Sgt John White now awaits the findings of the Morris tribunal, writes Christine Newman

For five years John White, the suspended detective sergeant, had an accusation hanging over him that he planted a sawn-off shotgun at a Travellers' encampment. Charged on June 20th, 2001, he had always denied the claim.

His trial held up the publication of three Morris reports on modules which looked into the same issues and in which Det Sgt White gave evidence.

The Burnfoot module was held in private because it was ruled it could prejudice the trial, as the evidence would cover the same matters as those to be heard in court.

The module focused on the arrest and detention of seven people at Burnfoot, Co Donegal, on May 23rd, 1998, and the inquiry relating to it. The arrests followed a search of a Travellers' encampment where a firearm and ammunition were found. It was alleged that Det Sgt White planted the gun.

The chairman forwarded his report on the module to Minister for Justice Michael McDowell, who took the view that all three reports could prejudice the trial and they should not be published until it was over.

The first court case Det Sgt White faced was in early 2005 when he was acquitted in Letterkenny Circuit Court of perverting the course of justice and making false statements.

He had been arrested on March 21st, 2000, ironically the day after he had been presented with a long-service medal for 25 years in the force.

This related to issues that were heard in the "silver bullet" module of the tribunal, the subject of one of the three reports. The third was one on a short module on Ardara.

The "silver bullet" module was based on allegations by Bernard Conlon that Det Sgt White asked him to be found drinking after hours in August 1997 in a nightclub called Frankie's in Raphoe, owned by the McBrearty family, in order to set them up.

Gardaí claimed the McBreartys were involved in the death of cattle dealer Richie Barron whom the tribunal has since found was the victim of a hit-and-run.

Mr Conlon also alleged Det Sgt White told him to fabricate a story that two men called to his home in Sligo and threatened him with a silver bullet if he gave evidence against the McBreartys in the licensing case.

Mr Conlon also falsely gave descriptions of two members of the extended McBrearty family. This led to their arrests.

Det Sgt White denied all of Mr Conlon's allegations. Mr Conlon was tried for making false statements and given a three-year suspended sentence in 2000.

Det Sgt White (50) was born in Co Tipperary. He had an impeccable record and a fine reputation in the Garda Síochána until the allegations were made against him.

Married with a family living in Ballybofey, he was promoted to the rank of detective sergeant and was involved in solving major criminal cases, many involving subversive activities in Northern Ireland.

Det Sgt White now awaits the findings of the tribunal reports.

However, that will not be the end of giving evidence for the detective sergeant. He is also due to appear as a witness when the tribunal resumes in September in the detention modules relating to the arrests of 12 people in connection with Mr Barron's death.

Also, at the end of the year, the detective sergeant will be the main witness alleging that interview rooms in Garda stations were bugged.